Hugo Montenegro Biography

1925, New York City, New York, USA, d. 6 February 1981, Palm Springs, California, USA. An accomplished and prolific composer, arranger and orchestral conductor for film music. After two years in the US Navy where he arranged for Service bands, Montenegro graduated from Manhattan College and entered the record industry in 1955. He served as staff manager to André Kostelanetz, and was conductor-arranger for several artists, including Harry Belafonte. While working as a musical director for Time Records in New York, Montenegro made his own orchestral albums including Arriba!, Bongos + Brass, Boogie Woogie + Bongos, Montenegro And Mayhem, Pizzicato Strings, Black Velvet and Overture... American Musical Theatre 1-4. After moving to California he wrote the score for Otto Preminger’s 1967 movie Hurry Sundown, a racial melodrama starring Jane Fonda and Michael Caine. In 1968, with his orchestra and chorus, he recorded Ennio Morricone’s theme from the Italian film The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. The record went to number 2 in the US pop charts, topped the chart in the UK, and sold well over a million copies. The instrumental contrasted with Montenegro’s big, romantic string sound, and the effects were startling.

From the haunting introduction featuring Arthur Smith on the ocarina, the unusual instruments used included an electric violin, electric harmonica and a piccolo trumpet, aided by the whistling of Muzzy Marcellino and Montenegro’s own grunting nonsense vocals. In 1969 Montenegro had a minor UK hit with the theme from Hang ’Em High, the movie with which Hollywood attempted to match the brutal style of the ‘spaghetti’ originals, partly by using the same star, Clint Eastwood. The soundtrack album, Music From ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’ & ‘For A Few Dollars More’ & ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ made the US Top 10. There was a refreshing change from the usual film themes on Broadway Melodies, where the material included standards such as ‘Varsity Drag’, ‘Thou Swell’, ‘Tea For Two’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’. Throughout the late 60s and 70s he continued to provide music for movies such as The Ambushers (1968) and The Wrecking Crew (1969), both Matt Helm adventures starring Dean Martin; Tony Rome and Lady In Cement, featuring Frank Sinatra as private eye Tony Rome; Charro (1969), an Elvis Presley western; The Undefeated (1969), starring John Wayne; Viva Max! (1969); Tomorrow (1972); and The Farmer (1977). He also continued to release his own oddball electronica records. Montenegro retired in the late 70s after contracting emphysema.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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